With the Rangers stealing both games from the Capitals, they now hold a two-game advantage as the series heads up to the Garden. Rangers fans are celebrating, but this is not a best of three series, and Washington is nowhere near showing its true colors.
Washington and New York have faced each other six times thus far, with the past five games being decided by one goal (including one that went to the shootout and one that went into overtime). Yet in the playoffs, the Rangers have played a fundamentally sound defensive game to combat the Caps’ firepower. Here are five things Washington must do if they want to force the series to a Game 6 or a Game 7:
1. Offense– Four goals through two games will not win you games when you have Theodore in net. Henrik Lundqvist has stopped 67 of 70 shots and the Rangers’ defense has done a tremendous job of getting in the shooting lanes. Someone from Washington needs to step up, be it the superstars, or the role players. Whenever Alex Ovechkin gets the puck, the Rangers collapse on him, forcing him to to pass or come to a stop just inside the blue line. In the few occasions that left Ovechkin open in Game 2, the puck bounced over his stick on a backdoor play, and he rung a wrister off the crossbar. The Rangers are getting under the skin of Alex Semin (among others), and exposing his tendency to take bad penalties. Mike Green has not had any luck either. He was caught deep in the Caps’ zone, which led to the lone goal scored by the Rangers while on an odd man rush. Nicklas Backstrom has played well, picking up an assist in Game 1 and winning 70% of his draws thus far. He had a great opportunity to tie the game with under four minutes left while on a semi-breakaway, but Lundqvist came up big again, stonewalling his fellow countryman.
2. Discipline– Washington spent 10 minutes shorthanded yesterday, time that could have been used to try to get the equalizer. The refs are being unusually strict, but the Caps need to just play their game, and not take any dumb penalties. After exiting the box early in the second period, Viktor Kozlov spent just 21 seconds on the ice before picking up a hooking penalty to send him right back in. Semin was also whistled for two infractions, the second being an ugly slash to the neck area on Fredrik Sjostrom halfway through the third period.
3- Goalie Situation– Even though Simeon Varlamov (Var-LA-Mov) played exceptionally well, Boudreau has yet to name a starter, and will announce his decision tomorrow. Jose Theodore was disappointed in Boudreau’s decision, but remained optimistic: “For me, it still could be a long series. For so many years, you can look at Carolina, so many different situations where both goalies had the chance to play and they still made a long way. So I’m going to work hard and be ready. Like I said, I’m going to be supportive of my teammates.” I would rather have Varlamov start Game 3, but let’s not forget that the Caps are returning to the place where Theodore turned his season around.
4- Playing at the Garden– The Rangers and Capitals split the two games that were played at MSG this year, both ended 5-4, and both required at least overtime. In the game that Washington lost, they were playing with Jay Beagle (who was making his NHL debut) and without players like Semin, Kozlov, and Brian Pothier. The Caps’ stars will also benefit from playing on the ice surface at the Garden, which is an upgrade compared to playing at the Verizon Center. In addition, Sergei Fedorov‘s father believes that playing away from home can help calm Washington’s nerves: “Washington will no longer feel the pressure of their home audience, they will play more relaxed.”
5- Solving Henrik Lundqvist– Historically, Henrik has been a good first round goalie, but in the past two games, Washington is just starting to find out why he is called ‘King.’ Due to good defense in front of him, most of the Capitals’ shots are being shot from the outside, something Washington needs to change if they want to put it past Lundqvist’s pads. The key will be getting more traffic around the crease to screen Hank and pick up some garbage goals. Boudreau put it the best this afternoon at practice:
“We’re trying as hard as we can to get to the front of the net,” Coach Bruce Boudreau said after a very optional skate. “We’ve had 70 shots in two games to their . We’re doing what we can. But we’ve got to do better. Maybe we need 45 shots, I don’t know.”
“We have to find a way,” he added. “They’re a good hockey club, but they’ve allowed goals in the past, so we’ve got to find a way to [score on them] in the future. Miss [the shot blockers], quite frankly,” he said. “Shoot it where they ain’t. They do a very good job of dropping back and are committed to blocking shots.”